If you want to use hypnosis to help people with health and personal growth, you’ll need to become either a medical practitioner (such as a nurse, dentist, MD, or chiropractor) or a counselor of some sort (such as a clinical psychologist, counseling psychologist, or social worker). Other counseling options include motivational speaker, life coach, personal trainer, and neuro-linguistic programmer.
Reported benefits of hypnosis include stress management, stopping to smoke, losing weight, alleviating or eliminating phobias, and coping with pain. For instance, hypnosis has been shown to ease the pain of surgery, with some patients choosing “hypnosis and a local anesthetic to avoid the groggy knockout effect of general anesthesia.” (ref)
Because there are no accredited schools offering standard college or university degrees in hypnosis (the closest is the certificate offered by the Hypnosis Motivation Institute), we recommend that you first get a degree in one of the fields mentioned above, especially medical practitioner, psychological counselor, or social worker (a master’s of social work, or MSW, is an incredibly versatile degree—click here for online MSW programs).
For example, in pursuing a degree in nursing or psychological counseling, you may (if you’re lucky) be able to enroll for one or two courses devoted to hypnosis (some programs don’t have any such courses). But to learn hypnosis in a way that will best help your patients or clients, you’ll need to do further study.
If you’re serious about hypnosis, we recommend a master’s degree in counseling or clinical psychology, followed by continuing-education workshops with the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, the Milton H. Erickson Foundation, or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.
Clinical Hypnosis Programs
The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis is the largest professional organization of health and mental health care practitioners using hypnosis techniques in their clinical practice.
ASCH offers training workshops, certification, and networking that can enhance professional practitioners’ clinical success with hypnosis techniques.
All ASCH members must possess at least a master’s degree in their field.
Founded in 1968 and located in southern California, the Hypnosis Motivation Institute is a not-for-profit, nationally accredited training college and clinic for hypnosis therapy (“hypnotherapy”).
HMI is the first clinical hypnosis training college in the U.S. to be accredited by several Department of Education–recognized accrediting agencies.
HMI’s Hypnotherapy Clinic currently maintains a staff of over 50 certified hypnotherapists.
The Milton H. Erickson Foundation, Inc., is a federal nonprofit corporation devoted to promoting and advancing the contributions to the health sciences of the late Milton H. Erickson, MD, during his long and distinguished career.
The Foundation provides training in hypnosis techniques for mental health professionals worldwide.
Strict eligibility requirements are maintained for attendance at all their training events or to receive their training material.
(Trailer for Wizard of the Desert)
Founded in 1949, the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis is an international organization of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and others.
The mission of SCEH is to promote excellence and progress in hypnosis research, education, and clinical practice.
The membership of SCEH represents a unique, collaborative union of distinguished academics and clinical practitioners in the field of hypnosis research and therapy.
Many of us, when we think of hypnosis, imagine some spooky character on stage who calls up people from the audience, controls their minds, and has them do crazy things like running around onstage and clucking like chickens—or worse.
For example, in the classic Expressionist silent film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920; left), the eponymous doctor sends out his assistant, Cesare, in a hypnotic trance to commit robberies and murders.
But even when we think of hypnosis not in the context of carnivals and side shows, but as a form of therapy, we still tend to think of it in terms of mind control.
As such, people may also associate hypnosis with brainwashing, as in the film, The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962).
In this Hollywood Cold-War classic (right), the lead actor is made into an assassin against his will and triggered to kill on cue. (Pass the time by playing a little solitaire, anyone?)
In short, in many people’s minds, clinical hypnosis is not much better than stage hypnosis.
Another good example of this is the movie Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999).
In this film, the lead character (played by Ron Livingston) goes to a medical practitioner for psychological help. The doctor hypnotizes him as part of his therapy.
However, the doctor unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, and the protagonist can’t get out of his hypnotic trance!
This set-up makes for some amusing antics when the protagonist’s hypnotic trance helps him to succeed in business and love.
(Video clip from Office Space)
All these popular images attack the credibility of hypnosis in the eyes of many people. And yet, they are all based on a misunderstanding of the nature of hypnosis. The reality is quite different.
Hypnosis has a long history, and overwhelmingly it has been connected with healing. The Greek god of medicine and healing, Asclepius, was thought to heal people in his temple as they were sleeping (people would spend the night in the god’s temple and, as it were, sleep off their illness). Even in the Bible (chapter 2 of Genesis), the Hebrew deity is portrayed as performing surgery on Adam (removing his rib to form Eve) while he was asleep.
Indeed, the very word “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word for sleep (hypnos). It’s long been thought that the altered state of consciousness associated with sleep helps humans to tap into dimensions of themselves, and opens them up to possibilities, not available during the waking state. Some hallucinogens and herbs are thought to further facilitate the hypnotic state.
With the rise of modern science and medicine, hypnosis has largely fallen into the lap of medical practioners and psychological counselors of various sorts. The founders of modern psychiatry (Freud and others) used hypnosis, and some of them, for a time, saw it as a cure-all for psychological problems.
Yet, when it was found that patients often relapsed into their old problems, hypnosis lost a lot of support. And with the rise of behaviorist and reductionist approaches to psychology in the 20th century—approaches that saw humans as basically stimulus-response machines and devalued our conscious life—hypnosis lost much of its traction in the scientific community, so much so that most accredited colleges and universities these days offer little nor no formal instruction in it.
MILTON ERICKSON’S LEGACY
Slowly, however, the medical establishment has begun to recognize that hypnosis is a real therapeutic tool capable of benefiting patients in the arenas of medicine, mental health, and difficult-to-change habits.
Milton Erickson, MD, did more to correct many of these false notions about hypnosis than anyone in the history of the mental health field.
Through painstaking observation and experimentation, Erickson (left) demonstrated that hypnosis could not be used to induce people to do things that would violate their moral code in ways they ordinarily would not.
In other words, people will not violate their core sense of morality just because they are given a hypnotic suggestion to do so. He also characterized hypnosis as something the patient does internally, rather than allowing someone else to control the subject’s mind.
That said, however, hypnosis is definitely a powerful tool—one that requires considerable knowledge and education to utilize effectively and safely.
The premier organization in the United States for training professionals in the therapeutic use of hypnosis is the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH).
ASCH provides clinical workshops and training for professionals in the medical and mental health fields. In order to enroll in their workshops, one needs either an advanced degree in a mental health field (such as psychology or social work) or a medical degree (MD, DDS, RN). ASCH’s approach to training is the best standard of training for hypnosis.
There are also a few graduate programs that offer at least some training in hypnosis as a part of the coursework for master’s or doctoral degree programs.
One program of note is that of Washington State University, which offers two graduate-level courses on hypnosis as a part of the counseling psychology program.
In addition, Argosy University’s Schaumburg campus boasts coursework that is approved by ASCH for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels of training.
Additional information about hypnosis coursework and training can be found through the American Psychological Association’s Division 30—The Society of Psychological Hypnosis.
Finally, there are a number of certification programs that teach hypnosis to lay persons only. However, hypnosis is a complex phenomenon, and an awareness of many psychological factors that can affect it is important to use it safely and effectively in a clinical setting.
For this reason, a practitioner who has received training from ASCH, SCEH, or the Milton Erickson Foundation—and who has an advanced degree—would be better able to appreciate the complexity of hypnosis and other important psychological factors.
In summary, much evidence suggests that hypnosis, if done right within a broader therapeutic context, can lead to significant benefits for health and personal growth.
Although not a cure-all, hypnosis is a powerful therapeutic tool, which—in order to be safe and effective—needs to be applied within a larger framework of clinical experience and conceptual understanding.
Get yourself a standard degree as a medical, counseling, or social work professional, and then go for additional training in hypnosis through one of the professional hypnosis societies listed above.